It’s That Time Of Year…

Warm and dry weather has settled over south central Alaska promising the return of mosquitoes and tourists.  Late last week I killed the first mosquito of the season; it was one of the big, slow and noisy ‘over-winter’ variety but its appearance heralds the first batch of this season’s blood suckers which will be small, quiet and very hungry.  I’ve refilled the propane tank and will most likely setup the ‘Mosquito Magnet’ once the snow disappears.  For the time being it is providing me the fuel to grill on the front porch.  The kidz are reveling in getting out for daily walks with me; previously the roads were too icy and snow covered to safely walk.  I love being able to do at least half my daily 12k+ steps outside in the sunshine and fresh air!  Without question, we are into the winter to spring changeover.

Break up is my least favorite season up here as is true for many Alaskans mainly because water and the associated mud seems to be everywhere!  In this area our mud is composed mainly of gray/brown glacial silt which is extremely fine grained; it clings to the coats of my canine companions until it dries – normally, inside the house – and falls off.  I can tell their favorite resting areas by the accumulation of the floury, gray silt; while it cleans up easily there seems no end to the stuff during this season.  Not all that long ago this area was buried beneath glaciers which slowly retreated towards the Alaska Range to the north and the Talkeetna Mountains to the east grinding up rock as they moved; this explains the abundance of the material.  This glacial flour is also responsible for the clouds of dust lifted by vehicles driving on the unpaved roads; if it is windless this dust can hang in the air for minutes confirming its fine nature.  This also explains why auto manufacturers consider this to be an ‘extreme’ area in terms of vehicle wear and tear; coupled with the snow and cold the dust makes it really hard on mechanical objects.

As the spring intensifies so does the solar radiation; this, in turn, begins to heat the interior of the house with time.  Already it is unusual to awaken to an air temp in the master bedroom below 62.0° F (16.7° C); just a month back I would often arise to a brisk 58.0° F (14.4° C) or cooler.  The slow rise of the internal ambient air temperature is something I encourage in early spring but by late spring I’m already using fans to draw in the cooler early morning air, despite the high humidity, such that the afternoon temps on the second floor aren’t getting too warm.  Almost all my screens are back in place and I’ve even put up some light blocking shields in the master bedroom windows as it is remaining light until 22:45 and we will not see ‘Astronomical Twilight’ again until August 10th.  I would like to learn to sleep with the sun streaming in the windows but to this point I’ve not yet been able to make this happen.  Maybe with the passage of a few more summers..?

This will be the first year I’ll be added routines involving my 2017 R-pod travel trailer; I hauled it back here in September of 2017.  The winterization process was very straightforward and fairly simple; I expect the efforts required to get it ready for use this spring through fall will be equally easy.  With a bit of luck I’ll be able to load up the trailer, pack the kidz in the back seat of the Escape and do some camping in the Kenai Peninsula late April to early May.  With luck this should allow me to avoid the first of the real tourist crush but there’s still a lot of snow in portions of the Kenai so I’ll have to wait and see.  If I cannot get down into that area this spring I will do so come fall.  After all, I didn’t go through the epic journey of hauling the unit from central Montana to Talkeetna just to let it sit!

The moose which were almost ubiquitous just a few weeks back have largely disappeared.  I suspect this is a combination of a much decreased snow pack and the cows heading into the forest to birth spring calves.  This winter was hard on the local moose population as I’ve seen more reports of moose carcasses since February than during any other similar time frame since relocating up here.  There are the remains of a bull just about a half mile east of my place; a neighbor told me of the carcass last week.  It is common to share such knowledge amongst the locals as such situations can and do draw bears as they come out of hibernation.  Learning of the bull’s remains will cause me to alter my early morning walks with the kidz for the next few months; we’ll be walking primarily to the west.  Once the local scavengers have had time to degrade the remains it will again be fine to walk that area with the dogs.

And so the seasonal cycle is once again on display in ‘The Great Land’.  As with all things in life there are positive and negative aspects to this dance but in the long run I still enjoy the season’s shift and am looking forward to leaves again populating the branches of the birch trees and warm summer breezes.  Of course, there will always be the mosquitoes and tourists but that’s all part of life in magnificent south central Alaska… 

Almost Clear Back Roads

A look to the north on Riven showing mainly bare earth with the ubiquitous puddles.

Water Bound EBD

Qanuk contemplates a section of East Barge Drive inundated by snow melt; he is less sure on ice than Anana (my Alaskan malamute)

 

The Moose of March

The end of the winter of 2017-2018 has been full of surprises in terms of snowfall and as the spring begins to take hold yet another surprise has bloomed.  After seeing few moose during the fall and winter across the past two weeks this area is suddenly awash in the magnificent mammals!  Never have I seen so many moose in such a short period of time and their sudden appearance has made for some ‘interesting’ times.

One of the things I love about Alaska, in general, and this area in particular is the abundance of large mammals.  By far and away moose are the most common large mammals although we do see the infrequent grizzly, black bear, fox and wolverine.  Moose are common enough that I have developed some habits related to their presence such as ‘jiggling’ the front door knob before opening the door when it is dark outside to give forewarning to the large critters that we are coming out.  Even so, I’ve spooked a few moose whom were close to the front porch and decided to freeze rather than move off.  The kidz are fascinated by the moose and have largely learned to steer clear of these huge ungulates but will watch them intently.  Anana, my Alaskan malamute companion, has even tried very hard to encourage some moose to play.  Bless her heart, at times she’s given almost every canine body language signal for play but remains befuddled when the moose do not respond.  Sadly, she just doesn’t ‘cog’ to the fact moose have different body language…

Because of their presence I’ve been able to collect a lot of images of these superbly adapted mammals on the local roads and on my property.  I can only guess the reason for their sudden appearance is based upon the voluminous snow events of latter February into early March which had given this area a 60” (152.4 cm) snow pack.  With the ‘moose of March’ came a string of sunny days with high temps above freezing although overnight lows dropped into the low teens to single digits.  This dramatically decreased the snow pack and, in so doing, saturated the remaining snow.  With the cool overnight temps the snow will freeze and becoming difficult to walk through although not frozen solid enough to support the weight of a moose.  Because of the difficulty in navigating these conditions the moose, being the opportunists they are, have taken to the nicely plowed back roads to travel.  This, of course, makes them a lot more visible to we humans.

I’ve amassed a number of images from my recent encounters with these amazing animals; the following are but a few of said images:

Friendly Moose From Escape

I photographed the almost ‘friendly’ moose on East Birch Creek Road while returning from a post office run.

Maybe Anana Hasn't Learned Her Lesson

My Alaskan malamute companion (Anana) was a bit too close to this moose just outside my driveway; it let her know it was time to ‘back off!’

Driveway Moose 032318

I saw this moose from the SE bedroom on the second floor while doing my morning stepping. It napped in this spot for over three hours.

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Wide angle image of the same moose as seen from my second floor spare bedroom

EBD Moose CU

A close up of the moose on East Barge Drive almost at my driveway

Moose Traffic on East Birch

Almost a moose ‘traffic jam’ on East Birch Creek Road!

 

“Walking In A Winter Wonderland…”

I’m seated in front of my system but staring out my second floor office window at the slow but steady snowfall; I’m reminded just how much I adore this area during the winter.  Granted, we hadn’t seen much in the way of the ‘typical’ winter across my first three years but the winter of 2016-2017 did produce some solid snow and cold and this year’s winter has finally come on strong.  We saw pretty seasonable temps across most of the winter but couldn’t buy precipitation across December, January and the first half of February.  That all changed during the last half of February as we received 36.5” of snow which is 31.7% of Talkeetna’s average annual snowfall.  And this latest snow event has produced 4.25” to this point (14:27) with light snow continuing to fall.  Our snow pack is 55.5” and looks to build a bit more before this latest event winds down this afternoon.

This winter has seen the birth of a new tradition; when I arise and see it is snowing I get ‘the kidz’ out first thing, prep their breakfasts, pull on my walking clothes, don my watch cap and headlamp, grab a walking staff and head out with the kidz to enjoy an early AM walk in the snow.  This generally takes place between 05:30 and 07:00 and my walks of late have been between 2.4 and 2.6 miles requiring fifty to fifty five minutes based on the accumulated snow.  I’ve walked in as much as 6.3” of snow – even though it was light and fluffy it was still a lot of work – and as little as 1.0” of new snow.  In so doing I’ve had a chance to enjoy the semi-rural south central Alaskan early mornings with my canine companions.  Even with the headlamp I still trust my dogs to scent out moose before I blunder into one.  With this said they are not infallible so I constantly sweep the beam from my headlamp back and forth along the roadside looking for the tell-tale glimmer of a set of eyes reflecting its light.  As it is winter the only large animal I’m likely to see is a moose so it isn’t necessary to actually see these large mammals; just the glowing eyes alerts me to the need to change our course to avoid the creature.

With all the snow of late the moose are being driven onto the plowed back roads as they are so much easier to walk although the road side berms of snow created by the plows makes it more difficult for moose on the roads to get back into the boreal forest to hide or to forage.  During our walks I regularly see their scat and hoof prints along with the ‘creases’ in the aforementioned snow berms created when these large mammals depart the road.  The kidz are fascinated by the scent the moose leave behind and frequently will attempt to follow the spoor into the boreal forest which is often hilarious as the berms are deep and the dogs will sink into them sometimes almost disappearing in the snow.  To this point I haven’t had to dig either out but I could see this happening at some point.

This morning’s walk was fun in that there was only 1.5” of new snow at 05:25 so the striding was easy.  As we walked I noticed I could tell which dog made which set of tracks.  My ‘little’ angel – Anana – is an eight and a half year old one hundred twelve pound Alaskan malamute struggling with advancing age and arthritis.  Qanuk (Ka-nuk) is an 88 pound six and a half year old male German Shepherd Dog who is still a puppy at heart and lives to run.  When I first exit the front door in my walking garb both dogs are excited and joyful; Qanuk will do his version of a ‘happy dance’ supplemented by sharp, excited barking.  Anana is much statelier but I can tell she is also happy and looking to go.  During our walks I’ve come to observe that Qanuk’s tracks are well defined and are composed of just his paw prints.  Anana’s tracks also show her paw prints but as she is older and lacking mobility her paws do not rise as high during her stride and hence leave ‘drag marks’ in the snow between her paw imprints.  It is also funny to note that once we’re a mile and a half to two miles into our walk I begin to see those same ‘drag marks’ in Qanuk’s strides.  This is an indication he is getting a bit more tired which is important as he needs lots of exercise.  If the snow is much above three inches in depth Anana will only do the first half to three quarters of a mile before returning to the house and collapsing just off the SE corner of the front porch.  By the time we return she is often mostly covered in snow but in her element.  Qanuk always makes the full walk with me and would gladly do more if I was game.

Without question I’m enjoying this wonderful winter weather as are my canine companions.  I relocated to this area because of its history of cold, snowy winters so it is great to finally see them materialize.  Our early AM walks in falling snow is something we all cherish; I just wish my little angel could accompany us the entire distance!  But as someone already seeing the limitations age places upon one’s body I can relate to Anana’s situation and I go out of my way to ‘baby’ her.  With my boy Qanuk, the sky’s the limit regarding vigorous exercise..!

Moderate AM Snow 022218

Wonderful walking weather; my back porch as seen during a recent snow event

March Moose CU

This youngster wasn’t bothered by me and the kidz one whit!

Qanuk Busting A Berm

My boy Qanuk busting a berm!

Qanuk Sinking In Snow

Qanuk almost disappearing into a snow berm

Snowy Office View

The snowy vista outside my office window…

Anana Loving Her Weather

My ‘little’ angel – Anana – in her element. She loves the cold and snow of her breed’s home!

A Winter Postcard From Alaska

Anyone who has read even just a bit of this blog over the years knows I love winter’s cold and snow and, since moving to semi-rural south central Alaska in 2013, I’ve been very disappointed with the winter weather.  In general, the temps have been above to well above historical averages resulting in rain/freezing rain in January and February – according to long time locals something unheard of just five years back – and often we’ve seen a dearth of precipitation.  The winter of 2017-2018 was shaping up to be the driest winter since I moved up here; this was frustrating because we’ve seen plenty of cool temps.  But we just couldn’t seem to buy any precipitation, at least until this past Sunday (02/11) afternoon…

NWS correctly predicted the snow event and posted a ‘Winter Weather Advisory’ for this area calling for 6″ (15.24 cm) to 12″ (30.48 cm) with localized amounts to 16″ (40.64 cm) but these were expected well north of Talkeetna and in the Hatcher Pass area.  We saw significant snowfall from Sunday afternoon through Monday evening; when all was said and done I measured a total of 14.75″ (37.47 cm).  That was the largest amount of snow I’ve seen from a single snow event since I moved up here and it raised our snow pack from a well below average 25.5″ (64.77 cm) to a respectable 39.0″ (99.06 cm).  Kudos to NWS for a timely and accurate forecast!

To me, this area is at its most beautiful after a sizable snow fall as we generally do not see much wind with such events and hence the trees are shrouded in a thick coat of pristine white.  So I thought I’d share a few images from this most welcome winter snow event:

Ole Home From Sat Dishes

The S and W sides of my humble abode as seen from the the location of one of my sat dishes

South Boreal Forest

The boreal forest just to the south of my driveway with the bottom of my wind chimes just visible

This Is How Ya Plow Snow!

This is how ya clear snow! My neighbor (Roland) at work with is front end loader

Doggie Snow Depth Indicators

Doggie snow depth indicators; my male GSD (Qanuk) is 86 pounds and my female Alaskan Mal (Anana) is 112 pounds

Qanuk on Unplowed EBD

Qanuk deciding there’s too much snow to try romping down East Barge Drive

After the Storm

The day after the snow event…

 

On The Road…Again (Epilogue)

Somehow I just cannot seem to ‘let go’ of this series; I guess the trip and its fallout made a bigger impact on me than I realized!  When I was collating images for the previous four segments I knew I was missing a lot of great scenery but for the life of me I couldn’t locate said pictures.  I checked the laptop I used on the trip but the data drive was empty; I thought I’d transferred everything to my network via a USB drive.  HAH, then it struck me; check said USB drive, dummy!!  Indeed, still ensconced upon said drive were the images I remembered.  So now I will share some of them with you as an epilogue of sorts to my ‘R-pod Odyssey’  Remember, I did this trip solo and while my canine companions were great company they couldn’t spell me in terms of driving nor could they take still images.  Trying to set up a shot while moving at 50 mph plus (80.5 kph) and accounting for reflections, sun angle, changing depth of field and similar as well as insuring I stayed on the road and didn’t head on an approaching vehicle made still photography much more difficult than video.  As such, some images may be a bit blurry and/or out of focus.  For this I apologize; I hope to have frame grabs from my video available at a later date.  With all this said here’s some additional imagery from my adventure:

BC Distances

Amazing distances in British Columbia as we approached the Canadian Rockies

Beautiful BC!

Just plain beautiful landscape in northern British Columbia

BC Undulations

Driving into the foothills of the eastern Canadian Rockies on The Alaska Highway

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Flat expanses on AB 2 in central Alberta

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Heading west from Dawson Creek (BC) on The Alaska Highway

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Entering the Yukon Territories from British Columbia on The Alaska Highway

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Snow in the Canadian Rockies!

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Welcome to the Canadian Rockies!

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Stone Mountain in the Canadian Rockies (British Columbia)

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Canadian Rocky Mountain splendor!

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Muncho Lake (YT) rainbow

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Liard River overlook around an hour south of Watson Lake (YT)

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Fabled ‘Sign Post Forest’ in Watson Lake (YT)

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Snowy St. Elias Mountains as seen from The Alaska Highway north of Destruction Bay (YT)

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Low ceilings 147 miles SSE of Tok (AK)

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Impressive Mount Sanford as seen from the Tok Cut-off

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Regular road repairs on the Tok Cut-off

On ‘The Road’…Again (the Finale)

A final reminder; unlike so many video series I’m not going to waste space and the reader’s time recapping ‘Part Three’.  If you are new to this blog or you missed it please read the previous entry or entries.  This final entry in my ‘R-pod Odyssey’ begins with our departure from Watson Lake (YT).

A glorious sunrise greeted us as we headed WNW from Watson Lake; the fog I’d watched envelop the town earlier that morning slowly dissipated yielding an overcast day.  While perhaps a bit gloomy I prefer driving in overcast conditions as I don’t have to deal with bright sun and the shadows it can create.  I was feeling very confident as we settled into the now all too familiar routine of trying to put down some serious miles on The Alaska Highway.  My abilities with respect to pulling the R-pod had increased with each day of the return trip and although I remained a bit concerned regarding the last 20 miles inside Canada, the Tok Cut-off and the Glenn Highway I was still sure I could successfully navigate these stretches.  I planned an even longer stretch today targeting Haines Junction (YT) which was 366 miles (589 km) distant.  While services were minimal for the first 272 miles (438 km) I did manage to fill up the Escape’s tank in the Teslin/Teslin Lake area which left me poised to easily make Whitehorse with its abundant services.

About 30 miles (48 km) west of Watson Lake a light rain began and became steadier continuing for the remainder of the trip.  Initially, it was no real problem but once we passed Whitehorse the road conditions worsened quite a bit and I began to see a lot of ponding on the road.  While the new Cooper tires did a yeoman’s job of maintaining traction it was asking too much of them not to ‘float’ a bit in standing water covering five or six car lengths.  This caused me to slow my pace a bit and I was relegated to making no more than 50 mph (81 kph) for the last 80 miles (129 km) of the trip.  I soon learned when approaching a longer area of ponding it was best to enter the water at an angle and try to keep the tires in the shallowest regions.  This could be difficult to discern at even 50 mph (81 kph) but I was getting more and more adept at guessing.  The real plus was an almost complete dearth of traffic; I pretty much had my lane and the oncoming lane to myself which made avoiding the ponding much easier.

We made Haines Junction in one piece and I decided to go with lodging I knew from previous trips and was lucky to snatch up the last available room at the ‘Al-Can Motel’.  I was not impressed with the room’s condition; this motel had definitely gone downhill since I last stayed there in August of 2013.  The seal around the door was almost non-existent – Anana liked this and slept right in front of the door – and the light over the sink was gone.  But it was a room and although I couldn’t access the Internet I was pleased just to be out of the Escape.  Once again, we completed the well-known drill of unloading the Escape, getting the kidz some ‘outside’ time followed by food and water and then settling in for the night.  I slept deeply and dreamed of spending the next night in my beloved Alaska.

After an early evening I awoke very early once again; I dressed and took the kidz out for an extended walk in the misty, damp morning air.  We walked maybe 2 miles (3.2 km) before returning to our room no more than fifteen minutes ahead of light rain.  I went through the ‘ready to depart’ routine as quietly as possible and loaded the Escape in the light rain.  We were on the road by 06:40 in complete darkness.  As such I held my speed to no more than 50 mph (81 kph) and made judicious use of my high beams and moose lights.  As we approached Destruction Bay the morning light was returning, although grudgingly, as there was a thick overcast.  I was targeting Tok (AK) at 290 miles (467 km) but knew we’d arrive early so I was leaving open the option of making Glennallen (AK) which was an additional 139 miles (224 km).  The road was now universally not good with some sections crudely repaired washouts and others a morass of frost heaves.  I refueled in Destruction Bay and now knew I most likely had sufficient gasoline to make Beaver Creek (YT) which was just around 27 miles (44 km) from the Alaska-Canada border.  But I also knew this portion of The Alaska Highway was by far the roughest and had seen the most construction on the trip south.  However, I also knew I had 12.5 gallons of gas in ‘Jerry can reserve’ so I had no fear regarding making Beaver Creek.  There are no services on the 116 miles (187 km) between Destruction Bay (YT) and Beaver Creek (YT); in fact, there’s virtually nothing but wide open albeit gorgeous spaces.  The rain let up on this stretch but the low ceilings remained.

We reached Beaver Creek (YT) in the late morning and I refilled the almost empty Escape and headed for the border.  Within a few miles I was forced to stop and wait for a pilot car – what is it with pilot cars being required in construction in Canada? – which consumed around 15 minutes.  Once on our way I was impressed to see no real road issues and no ongoing construction!  In fact, this newly renovated portion of The Alaska Highway was in better shape than anything I’d driven in the last roughly 750 miles (1,208 km)!!  Still, I dutifully followed the pilot car to the point it turned off just prior to the US Customs checkpoint.  As usual, I opened the windows to allow the kidz some fresh air and to interact with the customs agent and, as expected, the agent took time to pet both dogs and even went into the building to get another agent who obviously was a dog lover.  I could just imagine the people behind me fuming the agents were wasting time with the dogs but I also was pleased I didn’t have to pull out so the R-pod could be inspected.  We were soon on our way and I breathed a sigh of relief to be back in my new home while the kidz crunched away on the treats the agents had given them.

As I continued along The Alaska Highway the skies cleared to partly cloudy conditions; it was as if Alaska was smiling on us!  We made good time and by noon we were in Tok.  Now I faced a choice; I could overnight around Tok or I could drive the really rough Tok Cut-off and a bit of the Richardson Highway (AK 4) and make Glennallen.  Doing this would put me another 138 miles (222 km) closer to home and leave us with only 211 miles (340 km) to Talkeetna; it really was a no-brainer and we struck off SW on the Tok Cut-off.  The road was the worst during the first 70 or so miles (113 km) and I was forced to slow to 35 mph (56 kph) for fear of separating the Escape from the R-pod on the bad portions of the road.  I stopped to get some gorgeous video about half way through the drive and for the first time the kidz scared me by disappearing down the slope into the trees while I was busy with the video camera.  For five minutes I called and called, becoming more and more concerned.  Finally, Qanuk appeared trotting towards me and while angry at his wandering I still praised him no end.  Anana eventually showed up in her slow, “what’s the big deal” manner but I had to praise her as well.  I stuffed both of them into the Escape and we set out once again.

By around 16:00 we made Glennallen and the first thing I did was fill up the Escape with gas, then we hit a small grocery for some minimal food and a treat for the kidz.  I again returned to lodging I knew – in the case ‘The Caribou Motel’ – and was again disappointed at its decaying condition.  While never a ‘premium’ motel it had definitely fallen into dis-repair since my last visit a bit more than four years earlier.  But it was the last night we’d be in a motel and I was tired and worn out so we took a room.  For what was the final time we went through the well-oiled drill of unloading the Escape, getting the kidz water and exercise and then settling into our room.  At least the internet access was solid and I was able to send out my first ‘real time’ update in three days.  A bit later a group of kids knocked on my door and wanted to play with the dogs; they’d met them while I was checking us in.  I said ‘sure’ and accompanied them outside just because I wanted to keep an eye on Qanuk.  While not aggressive or mean he is uncertain around children and I didn’t want any problems.  Thankfully, the kids gravitated to Anana, just like always, and she reveled in the attention.  I finally gathered up the dogs and we headed back inside for an early evening.  I once again slept deeply; it felt so good to be back in Alaska.

Yet again I awoke early and took the kidz outside; as I stood in the shadows of the building I contemplated at the ghostly outline of Mount Drum to the east.  As I stared I thought I was seeing faint clouds emanating from the NE; soon I realized I was witnessing faint aurora!  I remained outside for maybe five minutes watching the show.  While hardly bright or obvious I felt this was a good sign and Alaska was welcoming us home.  I finally gathered up the kidz and we returned to the room where I shaved, showered and packed up our stuff.  However, it was still quite dark at 06:10 and I knew the area I was about to drive was loaded with moose so I decided to send out a brief email update while I awaited more daylight.  I also finished loading the Escape such that we were all ready to head home.

Once it was twilight I could no longer contain my enthusiasm and we headed west on the Glenn Highway (AK 1).  The first 70 miles (113 km) were in good shape and I saw just one moose but the final 40 miles (64 km) are notorious for all the narrow stretches, lack of regular pull-outs, steep grades and blind curves.  I was well amped on coffee and extremely alert; even so this portion was a challenge for us.  I was heartened to see a brief rainbow in the Matanuska Valley as we headed west!  The Escape did very well hauling the R-pod through this section and I was continually monitoring the traffic behind me and pulling off at every opportunity.  Thankfully, traffic was minimal and I was able to make good time under the conditions.  Once we made the Parks Highway (AK 3) I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I am extremely familiar with this portion of the drive but I reminded myself this was no reason to become complacent.  We stopped into Fred Meyer so I could gas up and pick up some groceries.  Then we settled in for the final hour plus drive to home.

This portion passed quickly and my excitement increased as we passed ‘milestones’ I knew all too well.  I finally pulled into our driveway at 11:59, switched off the engine, set the parking brake and let the kidz out.  Then I breathed another huge sigh of relief; we had made it!!  I still had a couple of hours of unpacking to handle but tonight I’d be comfy in my Sleep Number bed and the kidz would have ‘their’ house in which to wander and sleep.  They were obviously delighted to be home; after I unpacked the Escape and the R-pod and managed to back it into its over winter resting location I tried to get them to come back outside so I could get a picture of them alongside the Escape/R-pod.  Both declined the opportunity to come outside; it was almost as though they were saying; “No way Jose, we just came back home and we’re staying!!”.

In homage to my age I required a full week to really decompress; the kidz handled it in less than half that time.  This odyssey consumed a total of 5,892 miles spread across 25 days involving two countries, two American states and three Canadian provinces.  We saw desperate, desolate lows and giddy, soaring highs along with amazing scenery and way more motel rooms than I ever want to see again!  I proved to myself I could undertake such an effort and come away successful although there were many times I was honestly unsure.  I learned to tow a small travel trailer across some challenging landscapes often in less than desirable weather conditions and also surprised myself with how quickly I learned to do so.  Of course, I’d left myself with little or no options!  Once again, I’ve come to learn that it is only when we really push the envelope do we learn of what we’re made.  It was a truly major effort on my part but in the end I triumphed.

And so ends my account of ‘The R-pod Odyssey’.  Hope you enjoyed reading of my trials and tribulations.  As always, I’ll leave you with some images from this last leg.  At some point, hopefully this winter, I’ll get reacquainted with the vastly upgraded version of Pinnacle’s “Studio 21” and will get my video rendered.  At the very least, I should be able to post some good frame grabs.  With that said, here’s some imagery…

Gunsite Mountain

Gunsite Mountain on the Glenn Highway (AK 1); notice the notch in the low point of the gap

Mat Valley Rainbow

Faint rainbow over the Matanuska Valley south of the Glenn Highway (AK 1)

Fog Over Matanuska Glacier

Thick fog marks the Matanuska Glacier

AK 1 & Sheep Mountain

Heading west on the Glenn Highway with Sheep Mountain in the distance

R-pod Settled In

Getting the R-pod settled into its ‘over winter’ resting place

On ‘The Road’…Again! (Part One)

It’s been quite a while since my last blog entry which was made on September 4th from the Beaver Creek RV Motel in Beaver Creek, Yukon Territories (Canada).  This marked my first overnight on what I have dubbed ‘the R-pod Odyssey’ which became a 26 day endurance run from Talkeetna to Three Forks (MT) to finally pick up the R-pod travel trailer I’d purchased in June of 2016.  A good friend picked the trailer up from the dealer in Hamilton (OH) and hauled it back to SW Michigan where he made numerous upgrades to the unit.  Then, a friend of his (Dave) who was in the process of relocating to Three Forks put the trailer on his flatbed and hauled to his farm just outside Three Forks where it had been awaiting me.  Why did I purchase the unit from a dealer in Ohio?  I couldn’t find a Forest River dealer in Alaska with the R-pod so I had to look in the lower 48.  Every dealer I found in the lower 48 wanted between $16,500 and $21,000 for the 2017 model; however, the dealer I used is located just five miles from the Forest River production facility and I was able to purchase the unit for $12,900.  Having the trailer hauled to Three Forks saved me around 2,200 driving miles (3,543 km) for the round-trip.  All told, I was thinking I’d save money by going this route.

Hah, so much for the best laid plans!  I believe in the final analysis I might have saved four thousand dollars over the most expensive quote but probably broke even on the lowest price I found outside of the dealer in Ohio.  I knew even mediocre rooms on the Alaska Highway would run between $110 and $150 Canadian per night.  I had planned to stay in the R-pod on the return leg of this adventure but the unit had a severe water leak which forced me to lay over a couple of days in Great Falls (MT) while a dealer repaired the problem.  All told I stayed in motel rooms 23 of the 26 days I was on the trip.  I knew my Escape had a non-functional air conditioning unit but I was thinking I might not need it because of the dates I was traveling.  So much for that idea; by September 6th we were driving in sunny and warm conditions with the outdoor temps pushing the lower eighties.  I had decided to bring both my canine companions on the trip and they were real troopers given the schedule upsets and weeks they spent sharing the back seat.  Qanuk, my 86 pound (39.1 kg) male German Shepherd Dog, was very verbal in expressing his dissatisfaction with spending most of every day in the back seat yet every morning all he wanted to do after getting some exercise was jump into the Escape.  Anana, my 112 pound (50.9 kg) female Alaskan malamute, is very easy going and she just ‘went with the flow’.  However, the warm temps I mentioned were just too much for her and my poor ‘little’ angel really struggled with the heat.  By the time I was stopping over in Red Deer (Alberta) I knew I had to get the A/C repaired.  The motel folks recommended ‘Canadian Tire’ and I was able to get an appointment the next day.  I planned to get the unit repaired, recharged and then continue my drive south.

Once again, HAH…so much for my plans!  The A/C had a severe leak in the plumbing and the parts to repair it had to be ordered and wouldn’t be in until the following Tuesday.  It was Friday so I faced either really stressing Anana or losing four more days.  I was very aware of the heat and wildfires in western Montana and I was sure we’d need the A/C.  I also knew my Michelin All Season tires had 67,000 miles (107,890 km) on them but they still had reasonable tread.  I told the Canadian Tire folks my plan to drive to Three Forks (MT) and back to Talkeetna; they felt I could do so safely on the existing tires.  But when I mentioned I’d be pulling an 18’ (5.5 meters) long , 2,200 pound (1,000 kg) travel trailer on the return that all changed.  They highly recommended I get four new tires so I bit the bullet and purchased four new Cooper winter rated tires and scheduled a front end alignment as well.  I was able to get the Escape scheduled for a 09:00 appointment on Tuesday morning.  The folks at Canadian Tire thought everything might require five to six hours so I decided I’d stay yet another night in Red Deer and head out Wednesday morning.  Thankfully, Red Deer had a large, leash-less dog park so I could get ‘the kidz’ lots of exercise across the weekend.  Come Tuesday I turned in the Escape at 08:45 and Anana, Qanuk and I settled into the Canadian Tire waiting room.  The staff loved dogs and just went wild over Anana; they came from all over the store to see her, pet her and encouraged her to howl.  Soon, many of the customers were also stopping in.  I was so proud of both my canine companions as they were models of good behavior and extremely social.  In the end the work on the Escape only required a bit more than three and a half hours.  But it cost me almost $2,200 Canadian for the tires, the A/C parts, the front end alignment and the labor.  While the tires are great and probably saved my butt more than once on the return leg when you figure in the $120/night I paid across the six days I stayed in Red Deer I dropped right around $3,000 to remedy my mistakes and ignorance regarding towing a trailer.

Once we were driving again I was motivated to really make tracks and I did get us from Red Deer (AB) to Great Falls (MT) during the day which is around 420 miles (676 km).  In Montana we hit temps in the middle eighties and I was so happy I had the A/C repaired as Anana was comfortable.  Driving out of Red Deer I hit heavy rains which were causing some ponding on the road (AB-2 south); the Cooper tires had great traction and I began to realize just how worn the Michelin’s must have been before I replaced them.  Just dumb luck things worked out as they did; the Universe was definitely looking out for me!  We overnighted in Great Falls and to my surprise I smelled no smoke from the horrific wildfires burning mainly in the western portion of the state.  The desk clerk told me the previous day there had been a lot of smoke; the most I saw was some obvious high level haze composed of smoke lifted up into the atmosphere.  From Great Falls we made Three Forks by 12:30 MDT; most of the drive was done in rain which the locals were just so happy to see.  I was able to rendezvous with Tony (Dave’s son) who owned the farm where my R-pod was stored and follow him to the farm.

Once there I checked out the R-pod, received a quick tutorial from Tony and prepared to settle in.  It was during this time I discovered the severe water leak just behind the toilet; I couldn’t put water in the R-pod’s tank or run a water hose to the trailer’s inlet without seeing a spray of water from the leak.  Thankfully I had purchased ten one gallon jugs of water in Great Falls just in case so I had water inside the R-pod but couldn’t use the toilet or the sinks.  The rain continued to increase and it rained across Saturday with snow occurring Saturday night into Sunday morning.  The farm land became a morass of mud which ‘the kidz’ picked up like sponges pick up water and then deposited the mud in the R-pod.  I had a broom and dust pan and used them with abandon but even so the trailer definitely received its ‘baptism’.  On Saturday I drove the Escape back into Three Forks to get cell reception and called my dear friend (Kev) back in Kentucky to vent.  During the conversation he was able to locate a RV dealership in Great Falls; after I hung up with him I called the dealership and made the earliest appointment I could which was Wednesday morning although they felt they might be able to get it handled Tuesday afternoon.  By this point I was pretty frazzled and willing to take anything just to get the unit functioning properly.  I decided to leave with the R-pod Monday morning, drive to Great Falls, get a room and drop the R-pod off at the dealership in hopes it would be repaired and ready to go by Wednesday.

As this is getting to be rather lengthy and marks what could be considered to be the halfway point in the journey – at least in terms of mileage – I think this is a good place to end ‘Part One’.  But I’d also like to offer some additional thoughts and observations as well as share a few images.  In hindsight I really didn’t think this entire situation through well enough and it cost me.  I wanted a small trailer so I could take ‘the kidz’ camping with me when I visit Alaskan state and national parks; almost all require a hard sided trailer or similar if camping with dogs due to the bears.  The R-pod was almost the only hard sided trailer light enough to be towed by the Escape with relatively minor wear and tear (more on this assumption in ‘Part Two’) on the transmission and drive train.  I had towed small trailers a few times in the past but nothing larger than a ten foot (3 meter) long enclosed U-Haul trailer and not for more than maybe a hundred miles (161 km).  The R-pod is 18 feet (5.5 meters) in length and has a dry weight of 2,175 pounds (989 kg) which makes it almost twice the length and probably three times the weight of anything I’d previously towed.  Somehow the enormities of these magnitudes escaped me when I decided to make the purchase.

Many of my well-meaning friends shared horror stories of towing trailers and I began to realize just what I was getting myself into in terms of a long, grinding chore.  I was going to have to get my learnings regarding pulling such a trailer while on the road with a pair of canine companions.  In hindsight, I’d liken it to something one should never do:  try to break in a pair of hiking boots on the trail!  But I’d put myself in a situation with no options; the trailer wasn’t going to get up here unless I went down, picked it up and hauled it back here.  Dave had already been gracious enough to store the unit for a full year and I needed to get it.  Therefore, I’d left myself in the onerous position of having no alternatives to driving to Montana, picking up the R-pod and learning to tow it while driving back to Alaska.  Good grief, talk about ‘on the job training’!

And I knew a bit about the roads I’d be traveling; in particular, The Alaska Highway (formerly known as the Alaska-Canada Highway or ‘the Al-Can’) was a major concern.  I’d driven it once in the Escape with the kidz when I relocated to Talkeetna from SE Michigan and that had been an adventure.  On the trip south I was paying very close attention to road conditions, construction and the weather; I even took notes regarding the first two items.  Technically, I didn’t drive the entire length of The Alaska Highway; I drove ‘just’ the 1,257 miles (2,024 km) from Dawson Creek (BC) to Tok (AK) where I then used the Tok Cut-off to reach the Richardson Highway (AK 4) and finally the Glenn Highway (AK 1).  The Alaska Highway extends another 108 miles (173 km) beyond Tok to Delta Junction (AK) where it intersects The Richardson Highway.  However, I drove the worst sections of this fabled road which are almost always the first 140 or so miles (225 km) from the Alaska-Canada border to Destruction Bay (YT).  This section also had the bulk of the construction.  Beyond Destruction Bay the road begins to enter the western foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and becomes very sinuous with many steep inclines and more blind curves than one would ever hope to face.  The road remains in the mountains for another roughly 650 miles (1,047 km) before it begins to wind down through the eastern foothills of the Rockies.  ‘The Road’ was in as bad condition as I remembered from my 2013 trip but then this wasn’t unexpected and I made reasonable time.

For those interested here’s my route:

  • 09/03/17 – Talkeetna (AK) to Beaver Creek (YT): 465 miles (749 km)
  • 09/04/17 – Beaver Creek (YT) to Watson Lake (YT): 548 miles) (882 km)
  • 09/05/17 – Lake Watson (YT) to Fort Nelson (BC): 319 miles (514 km)
  • 09/06/17 – Fort Nelson (BC) to Grande Prairie (AB): 364 miles (586 km)
  • 09/07/17 – Grande Prairie (AB) to Red Deer (AB): 378 miles (609 km)
  • 09/13/17 – Red Deer (AB) to Great Falls (MT): 422 miles (680 km)
  • 09/14/17 – Great Falls (MT) to Three Forks (MT): 156 miles (251 km)

And now some memorable images from the trip south.  Stay tuned for ‘Part Two’…

Entering Western Canadian Rockies

Entering the western foothills of the Canadian Rockies

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Kluane River Basin

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Wind whipped dust and spray around Destruction Bay

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Foothill fog banks

Muncho Lake Sheep

Mountain Sheep at Muncho Lake (YT)

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Anana and Friend at Oxbow Leash-Free Dog Park in Red Deer, Alberta

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Miles and miles of brown Montana!

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R-pod, Escape, Dave’s barn and trailer on his farm

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Driving from Dave’s farm into Three Forks (MT)